Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Up, up, and away!

While some plants prefer to lay low in the summer heat, others shift into high gear. Here are a few prime examples of the latter, all from our garden.

The Agave parrasana next to the sidewalk has been busy pumping energy into its asparagus-like flower stalk. It's now taller the 6 ft. fence behind it.

Aloe ferox (left), Agave parrasana (middle) and Aloidendron 'Hercules' (right)

Agave parrasana is native to the Parras Mountains in the southeast of the Mexican state of Coahuila, about 300 miles south of the Texas border, where it grows at 4,500 to 8,000 ft. Since the winters can be frigid, the flower stalk of Agave parrasana emerges during summer and early fall and then stops for the cold season. Thick bracts protect the immature flowers against freeze damage. The following spring, the inflorescence completes its growth, with flowers emerging from side branches off the stalk.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Depupping ‘White Rhino’

Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae) is arguably one of the most beautiful and therefore most popular agaves. There are many different forms:  the all-green standard form with a varying number of white markings; several selections with yellow variegation; and a few clones with white variegation. The latter are quite rare, and hence highly sought after. 

One of the white-variegated forms is called ‘White Rhino’. It has off-white stripes on the outside and green in the middle. (A form called 'Mediopicta Alba' has the reverse: white in the center, green along the margins.)

I bought a ‘White Rhino’ offset a number of years ago—seven? eight?—and it's grown slowly but steadily. A speed demon it ain't, but few agaves are. 

On the upside, my ‘White Rhino’ has produced a handful of pups, and I finally decided to remove them so they can start life on their own (and hopefully make their own babies eventually).
Agave victoria-reginae ‘White Rhino’, about 7½ inches across

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Repotting in my favorite new soil blend

Plants often let us know what they need. All we have to do is look. Some cases are more transparent than others, but it doesn't get more obvious than this:

Acanthocereus rosei, a scrambling/climbing cactus from Mexico with beautiful flowers

This used to be a perfectly square pot. Doesn't look so regular anymore, does it? 

The ripples and bulges aren't caused by the plastic melting in the sun. It's the plant telling me it wants a bigger place to live. And here it is:

Saturday, August 1, 2020

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, summer 2020: a bit of Australia/NZ and Africa

This is part 2 of my recent visit to the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Part 1 is here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, you need to make a reservation before you can visit the UC Botanical Garden (UCBG). My reservation was for 2:30 pm so I only had 2½ hours until closing—not a lot of time, considering the garden is a sprawling 34 acres in size. My friends Max and Justin and I focused on the Mexico & Central America Collection, but on the way there, we walked by the Australasia Collection. Among many things, it contains beautiful specimens from Australia, like these Tasmanian tree ferns:

Tasmanian tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica)

More tree ferns are in the Cycad & Palm Garden surrounding the Conference Center and Tropical House, but that section is closed (unfortunately) because the paths there are narrow and social distancing would be difficult. I was disappointed because it's one my favorite spots at the UCBG.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, summer 2020: Americas

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley was closed longer than many other public gardens in California because it's on the campus of UC Berkeley and therefore subject to its regulations. Even now you need to make a reservation in order to visit, although even same-day reservations are generally available.

Feeling a bit restless, I made a reservation for last Saturday, and as luck would have it, my Bay Area friends Justin and Max were able to join me. It was great meeting up with them since they share my enthusiasm for plants. Even though we were wearing masks (required at the UCBG) and kept our distance from each other, it almost felt like a return to normal—the old normal, the one that's beginning to fade into oblivion...

Selfie with Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria)

Justin, Max and I, aka the Three Plant Amigos, spent most of our time in the Mexico & Central America Collection (see garden map), skirting Australasia and South America where I took the Gunnera selfie above. 

As the UCBG website states, the Mexico & Central America Collection “is representative of plants from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges of Mexico south to the higher elevations of Central America. Two major plant communities are represented: pine-oak woodland and cloud forest.”

It may come as a surprise that Mexican succulents, including the likes of agaves and beschornerias, often favor somewhat sheltered positions near or under trees or shrubs rather than growing out in the open. Relatively few agaves are true desert dwellers adapted to life in the hot blazing sun; these tend to have pale blue or silver leaves. Species with greener leaves are typically denizens of higher-elevation pine-oak communities.

Agave “sp.” (always my favorite label) and Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum)

I love everything about this vignette

I did a double-take when I saw this, thinking it was a new-to-me agave species. Not so. It's a Furcraea guatemalensisFurcraea being a related genus.

Agave marmorata, small and cute now but able to grow to giant proportions (in excess of 6 ft. in height and width)

Another Agave marmorata

Agave wocomahi

Agave wocomahi may not be a household name, but it deserves to be more widely grown since it's very cold hardy

Labeled “Nolina sp.”

Dasylirion acrotrichum in the front, unknown Nolina behind it

Agave gentryi growing in quite a bit of shade

Beautiful Agave “sp.”

This Manfreda sp. is an example of a plant so ugly only a real aficionado can love it

Cycads are another major plant group from Mexico I'm fond of. This is a rare Dioon sonorense.

Yucca rostrata towering over everything else

Agave “sp.” growing in fairly dense shade

Beschorneria albiflora

My latest plant crush: Brahea decumbens. I've long been enamored with the Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata), but it's a big plant that takes up a substantial amount of room. Brahea decumbens, on the other hand, is much smaller, only to 6 ft. in many years. Needless to say that, like so many other plants I become focused on, Brahea decumbens is rare and virtually impossible to find.

Brahea decumbens

Dioon edule, much easier to find and faster as well—but alas, not a blue palm!

Echeveria gigantea growing in conditions that I assume are similar to its natural habitat

If I hadn't seen the label, I wouldn't have believed that this is an oxalis: Oxalis magnifica

I don't associate tree ferns with Mexico/Central America, but here's one: Cyathea fulva, hailing from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas

Cyathea fulva frond getting ready to unfurl

Another relatively rare Mexican cycad, Dioon tomaselli

A few photos from the South America collection:

Gunnera tinctoria

And yours truly for scale (photo by Justin Cannon)

Aechmea recurvata var. ortgiesii growing in a crack in this rock

Next up, Baja California:

Agave datylio

Agave shawii ssp. goldmanniana

Agave shawii ssp. goldmanniana with Dudleya brittonii. Check out the incredibly long flower stalks!

I went a bit overboard taking photos of Dudleya brittonii...

...but it's such a beauty (here with Hechtia montana)

More Dudleya brittonii




OK, last Dudleya brittonii photo

A close relative, Dudleya anthonyii

A shrub for a change: Tecoma stans

Hechtia texensis at the entrance plaza:




The world-famous clump of hedgehog agave (Agave stricta) next to the tour deck:


One of the UCBG's signature plants, Agave mitis var. albidior 'UCBG':


And, to wrap things up, a personal favorite, Puya coerulea


A nice place to nap as long as you stay on the bench!


In part 2, I'll show you photos from other collections at the UC Botanical Garden, including Australasia.


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